Group formed to look into Presque Isle Fire Department issues

SOCKED IN by snow, the building that houses Presque Isle Fire Department No. 2 is very difficult to get to. The Department of Natural Resources cleared a path to remove two of their vehicles a couple of weeks ago, but residents of the area put the snow back because they don’t want anymore equipment or vehicles removed. (Photo by Peter Jakey)

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor

The demise of Presque Isle Fire Department No. 2 was again a major topic at Monday’s Presque Isle Township meeting as several citizens have spearheaded an effort to use whatever means possible to save the department’s remaining assets and re-establish a functioning fire department to serve residents between Long and Grand lakes.

Richard Nowak of Presque Township, who is a former fire department member, said his only aim is, “Is that we get our fire hall back into the township.” He submitted 271 petition signatures and submitted them to township supervisor Brent Koel.

Nowak said one of the officers who controls the corporation pulled off what he called a “raid on the fire hall, Super Bowl Sunday afternoon.” He said it was a couple of hours before the game. “If that officer managed the department like he executed that raid, I would not be here talking tonight.” He did not provide any names.

“They were observed taking equipment out of the building,” Nowak continued. “It happened in a hurry.”

A larceny complaint was reported to the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department. “If you want an itemized report of what was transferred, you can call the sheriff’s department because there is an incident report. We reported it.” Recently, the Department of Natural Resources removed two of their vehicles from the building.

Nowak believes area citizens should reclaim ownership and insists that officers appear at a future township meeting to explain when they decided to liquidate the assets.

“If they don’t show up, I would change the locks,” he said. “My only agenda is to get that building back in our hands.”

“It would be great if we could have a meeting with their board, to try and work something out,” said Koel. Calls to fire department officers have not been returned, Koel and other township board members said.

The township voted last year to stop providing $142,000 a year in funding because of unpaid taxes; missed fire truck payments; past due utility bills; and for not providing insurance on vehicles. Since then, the township board decided to contract with Alpena Township to provide additional fire coverage at $7,000 a month.

Township board member Lynn Morrison advised Nowak  against changing the locks. “They are their own business, their own entity. If you went and changed the locks, you might be trespassing.”

“Until somebody can prove that they actually own that building, I am going to say I own it, on behalf of our fire district,” Nowak responded.

At the January township meeting, the board was approached by a newly-formed ad hoc committee seeking funds to consult with an outside legal attorney regarding this matter.  In response, the committee was told to contact Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow to try and force the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to expedite the lien.

Clarkson Most, township assessor, commented that “they already might be acting on it, because I did get a call from the IRS asking me for a value on the building, which I don’t have.” He said the representative called from Saginaw.

“We do know the IRS is working on it, but as we know, the wheels of government are slow,” said Koel. He said the issue has been discussed with various attorneys, including county prosecutor Rick Steiger, to come up with a viable solution.

“We can’t put a restriction on a public operation,” said Morrison.

“By law, we can’t go lockdown anything; we can’t put a restraining order on anything; but we can contact Carl Levin, Debbie Stabenow,” said Koel. “That’s what the township can do.” The petition signatures were going to be scanned and forwarded to the senators.

As of Monday, the fire department is an active corporation, according to information on the Michigan Department of Commerce Web site, but they have not filed their 2013 articles of incorporation, which was due by Dec. 31, 2013. Koel said the government allows a grace period.

John Lacock said the committee met two weeks ago to discuss various proposals, including the establishment of a satellite operation in District No. 2.

Committee members decided to mull over the information from their meeting and met Tuesday (past press time). “We will try to get people to put down some concrete ideas about where we should go over the next 10 years.” Koel is pleased to have the assistance of the committee “To give us guidance.”

The township has a mutual aid agreement with